C25k Review – The Plan and the App

I am a guy who likes plans. I am good at lots of things, such as being strikingly handsome, or shooting squirrels. I am, however, not good at some things, like being tall or making a plan. Especially a plan for getting in shape. I am not a personal trainer. If I were, I would either not have any clients, since who wants the Pillsbury Doughboy as a trainer. Or, I would be in shape and wouldn’t need a plan. You get the point.

If I wore a chef hat, I'd look like this...

Enter the Couch to 5k plan. Its a running schedule designed to take a couch potato (or his baker’s cousin the Doughboy) from not running at all to running for 30 minutes straight. At a moderate running pace, this will be roughly the 3ish miles that is a 5k (I’m also not good at the metric system).

But since I am a big tech nerd, I went with this C25k app for the iPhone. I used this app from start to finish on my running training, so read on to find out what I think of the overall plan and the app that I used.

The Plan

The plan itself is solid. It focuses on doing mixed walking and jogging for about 30 minutes a session, with a 5 minute warm up and cool down walk. You are expected to do this 3 times a week for 9 weeks. If you have ever looked into cardio work, you are recommended to do 30 minutes 3 times a week, so you are already on you way to getting healthier. Score.

The plan is also good because you slowly increase the times that you are running while decreasing the time that you are walking. And you are doing this at a totally reasonable pace – off the top of my head it looked like you were only increasing your time by the recommended 10% a week. The typical week, in the early stages at least, repeats the same run/walk pattern the whole week. My experience it that you might find the pattern challenging on day 1 of the workout, but by day 3 of that week its achievable. Later on you progress faster, so the workouts begin changing faster, but I never felt like goal was unachievable.

The App

The app itself is excellent. It has the entire C25K plan laid out in it, and you just do the workouts as they come your way. When you complete a workout successfully, it gets marked off on the schedule. When you go back into the app, it’s set automatically to the next workout.

The overall time of the workout is illustrated, and the your progress through the whole workout is shown on an easy to read “circle progress meter”. Plus, there is a large countdown of the current torture (uh, exercise) that you are doing. So, at a glance, you can see that you have only 1:28 left until you get to walk again and that you are about ¾ the way through the workout.

Note the cool progress "circle" and countdown timers.

The app also features voice prompts. When its time to run, it gives you a little “ding” sound and tells you to run. Or whatever Doughboy type pace you call “running”. When its time to walk, it dings at you again and tells you to “walk”. It will also give you a prompt letting you know that you are halfway through the workout. In addition to being good motivation, it tells you that if you are running outside and running in a straight line away from your starting point, that you have reached a good place to turn around. Otherwise you might have to call a ride to come pick you up because your Doughboy backside is too tired to walk back how far you ran out.

A cool feature that I found useful was that you could skip ahead or back to the next or previous part of the workout if you needed to. I used this once when I got interrupted by something during the warm-up and couldn’t complete it – I just backed up and started the warm-up over. I also used it once or twice when my fat fingers accidentally pushed the “skip workout ahead” button as opposed to the “skip music ahead button”. My only defense is that the skip ahead button for workouts looks kinda like the one for music, but they aren’t that close together on the app. And what else are you going to make the skip workout button look like? So I don’t knock the app for that.

When you successfully complete a workout, you have the option of journaling it. There are convenient buttons to select to indicate how you felt about the workout, what the weather was like during the run, and what terrain you ran on. You can also enter your run and walk pace, the distance you traveled, and the number of calories you burnt. Finally, you can enter notes in a text box about the workout. You then have the option of posting to Facebook or Twitter detailing your completion of the workout, so your legions of friends could breathlessly track you slowly evolving from a studly Doughboy to a more active studly Doughboy. I posted all of my workouts to both places, the reasons behind which I will detail in later post.

The final feature I used was the music feature. You cannot load a pre-configured playlist onto the app, you instead have to select individual tracks for the app to play. And there doesn’t seem to be any other setting other than “random” for the play order. But I didn’t find either of these to be a big problem in using the app. I setup a large amount of music on the app, and just skipped songs if they were inappropriate for how I was feeling during the run. I only re-did the playlist once about ¾ of the way through using the app to get a different selection of songs on there. And the app conveniently turns down the music when it gives the voice prompt indicators.

Since the iPhone that I use is a hand-me down that has genuine moving stone parts in it, and has no data plan on it (its jailbroken to act like an iPod touch), I wasn’t able to use the extended features involving the GPS or have it connect to the Nike+ app. So I can’t comment on those.

Finally, the app crashed only one time when I was using it, and that was after I had completed the program and I was just tracking my 30 minute runs. And since we’ve established that I’m running old hardware that’s jailbroken, I’m not sure the app is to blame.

The Conclusion

On the plan, Couch to 5k worked and worked well for me. It was challenging but achievable and did exactly as promised.

For $2.99, this app did exactly what I wanted it to. And it did so reliably and intuitively. It allowed me to stop worrying about how long I had been doing my running and walking and how far I was in the workout and just allowed me to focus on running. Or, in my case, some form of locomotion that is faster than a walk, maybe a fast Doughboy waddle?

So, if you want to get started on running, the first thing I would do is consult your doctor before starting an exercise regimen (like how I slid that legalese in there?), then I would buy this app.

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